Play and Protection
Games and Toys
Games such as chess and backgammon have been played in the Islamic world for centuries. Some gaming pieces are rather difficult to date, while others survive for which a game has been lost or discontinued. In addition, dolls carved out of bone were made, especially in medieval Cairo. These figurines may have been used for both play and protection in their function as toys and/or amulets.
Amulets and Talismans
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, objects in the Islamic world also include images and patterns that dare viewers to decipher or delight in a variety of visual puzzles. While some of these art forms are lighthearted and playful, others cater to the more serious business of imparting wisdom and tending to ailments. For example, some drinking vessels known as magic or medicinal bowls were used for concocting potions to cure a variety of ills, from infertility to scorpion bites. Other apotropaic objects, such as pendants bearing inscriptions, magic squares, and seal designs, functioned as wearable amulets.
Surf and Turf
Depictions of animals can serve several functions in art, not least of which is to convey a sense of humor or whimsy. For example, the presence of aquatic and animal motifs on the surface of bowls and cups made of ceramic, metal, and glass added a playful element, from rabbits seemingly running across a textile to fish enlivening liquids in vessels. Whether used for play or protection, humor or healing, such objects act as powerful devices to engage and test the senses.